A diet rich in vegetables has been known to combat many illnesses - from cancer to bowel diseases, heart disease to diabetes. They can help you keep your weight in check, and even enhance your fertility. Available in a dazzling variety of shapes, colours, flavours and aromas, the word vegetable itself is not a specific botanical term, but rather a way of referring to the edible parts of plants, says consultant dietician Sigrid S. De Silva.
Vegetables generally contain a large percentage of water - up to 98% - and are low in protein and fat. When they contain some form of starch, they become an important source of energy says Sigrid, citing vegetables like potato and manioc. On average, vegetables are high in fibre and offer varying amounts of micronutrients, folic acid, beta carotene, potassium, iron and calcium. However all these can be adversely affected by poor storage or certain methods of food preparation. Variety is essential, and it is recommended that you eat at least 7 different vegetables per week to ensure a balanced diet. Remember to count all leafy vegetables as one. Here are a few more suggestions:
These root vegetables are high in fibre and contain a moderate amount of starch. They are rich in carotene, an anti-oxidant. They are also rich in pro-vitamin A, which when ingested is converted by our bodies into vitamin A. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, says Sigrid, explaining that it cannot be metabolised without the presence of some kind of fat or oil. Carrots also contain vitamin C and fibre.
Use your carrots in a salad. Combine it with apples, raisins and mayonnaise for a sweet salad, or use onions and green chillies for a more traditional savoury version.
Here is another vegetable rich in anti-oxidants and fibre. Also know as aubergine or brinjal, egg plant contains a small amount of starch. The purplish-red skin of the eggplant is rich in antioxidants, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Though the egg plant has a low to moderate calorific value, a lot hinges on the method of preparation. Sponge-like, it absorbs a lot of oil and so tempering it or frying it as is common in Sri Lanka, is not always advisable. One of the healthiest options is to grill it. Cut it lengthwise into long slices. Whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper and brush both sides of the eggplant slices with the mixture.
Peanuts are considered podded vegetables. These are exceptionally nutritious vegetables, and are rich in all three major food groups. With plenty of protein, fat and starch, peanuts are also rich in fibre, vitamin E, essential amino acids and essential fatty acids. It is like a food by itself, says Sigrid, suggesting salted peanuts for a quick snack or as a component of a salad. If intrigued by the latter consider cucumber tossed with lemon, cumin, cilantro, and peanuts.
These "flower vegetables" are very low in calories and are ideal for weight watchers. They are very high in fibre and in anti-oxidants like carotene. Plus they are also rich in vitamin C, another anti-oxidant. The very best part of this vegetable, however, might be its lovely green colour. Steam it, boil it or use it in a salad, says Sigrid, adding that broccoli tastes great in combination with other vegetables as well. Be careful not to overcook it. Lightly sautéed and kept crispy, broccoli is a great addition to any meal.
Common in Sri Lankan cooking, this vegetable is rich in fibre but not calories. It contains plenty of vitamin C and some potassium, among other nutrients. Like broccoli it makes for a pretty addition to any dish, and has a light flavour. Try lotus stem in white curry with yoghurt, dry ginger powder, green cardamom powder, fennel powder, bay leaves and ghee.
Abundant in nutrition, most leafy vegetables are high in vitamin C and Potassium. They are rich in fibre and beta carotene and as such are good for patients with blood pressure, cholesterol or bowel disorders. Their low calorific content makes them ideal for weight watchers as well. On average, these vegetables have plenty of iron, calcium and antioxidants. They are also rich in micronutrients, with the added benefit of being low in fat. Diabetics will find that leaves help them control blood sugar by absorbing additional starches says Sigrid. Most leaves have a distinct flavour of their own. Use them in salads or in soups.
These are in general very high in starch and carbohydrates. They are also rich in potassium, vitamin C, and contain a moderate amount of fibre. Tubers are ideal for those who work out a lot, are involved in hard physical labour through the day or those who wish to put on weight. They are very adaptable vegetables and can be made into curries, salads, purees, baked into pies and stuffed with a variety of ingredients.
Tomatoes are considered vegetable fruit. They have very high water content, but nevertheless have significant amounts of carotene and vitamin C. Because they also contain a lot of potassium, they are not always suitable for kidney patients. Despite their low calorie content, tomatoes have a very strong flavour and come in a variety of sizes. Eat them raw in a salad or cook them into curries or sauces.
High in fibre and vitamin C, cabbage is also low in calories. The method of preparation can determine the calorie value of a cabbage dish, with recipes like coleslaw topping the scale. Cabbage can also be eaten raw, but for the more adventurous, Ukrainian recipes are a must try. Here cabbage leaves are used stuffed with a seasoned mixture of rice, ground beef, pork and ham.
These root vegetables are known for their strong flavouring. Rich in vitamin C, low in calorie and high in fibre, they are often used to garnish dishes. They are also rich in potassium and can be eaten raw in salads and taste particularly good when combined with grated carrots, lime and green chillies.
Like broccoli, cauliflower too is a flower vegetable. It has less in the way of beta-carotene but is still rich in vitamin C and fibre, while being low in calorie. It is very easily overcooked, cautions Sigrid. As vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli can be vulnerable to pests they tend to be treated with heavy courses of pesticides. It is because of this that they must be washed thoroughly, even though their shape and texture doesn't always make this easy to accomplish. Again like broccoli they can be sautéed or mixed in with other vegetables to create a tasty meal.
Known as murunga locally, drumsticks contain a lot of potassium. Most of the nutrition is in the seeds, which contain protein, starch, iron, pro vitamin C, manganese, and phosphorous among other vitamins and minerals. These have been dubbed the asparagus of Sri Lanka and are traditionally cooked in the form of a curry. Use your teeth to scrape the flesh off, recommends Sigrid.
Rich in fibre, beetroots contain a moderate amount of starch. Rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly iron and magnesium, beetroots also contain a lot of the anti-oxidant carotene and pro-vitamin A. When cooking beetroots make the most of their lovely colours. Try this root vegetable salad. Begin by lightly boiling beetroots, carrot and potatoes, all whole. Do not overcook them, keep them firm firm. Once cooked, cube the vegetable and add uncooked onion, green chilli, salt and pepper. Add a little lime before tossing it with olive oil. You may want to serve some salad cream on the side.